Denver mayoral challenger Jamie Giellis failed to identify what the acronym “NAACP” stood for in a live interview on an African American-focused show Tuesday afternoon, renewing debate among minority voters about whether she’s a promising new ally or too far removed from communities of color.
Host Shay Johnson told Giellis on Brother Jeff Fard’s webcast Tuesday that the show had received several questions about her knowledge of the NAACP. Giellis offered that it could begin with the words “National African American,” laughing as she learned that was incorrect.
“It’s important, because it’s our people, and we want to know if you’re connected to our people,” Johnson said.
The acronym stands for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“They do advocacy for the African American community, they talk about policy, they talk about issues, they stand up for civil rights, they do a number of things,” Giellis said.
The organization’s mission is to ensure the “equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.” It has focused on civil and voting rights, among other goals.
The interview came just hours after former mayoral candidates Lisa Calderón, who is black and Latina, and Penfield Tate, who is black, endorsed her in the June 4 runoff election against incumbent Michael Hancock, who is black.
“I have blind spots — we all do, in everything we do,” she said later in the live interview. “So, help me figure out what those blind spots are, and we can do that better as a team than I can do it alone.”
Gielli apologized for what she described as a “momentary lapse” in a statement Wednesday, saying the correct answer came to her just after the taping finished. “As Mayor I look forward to working with this historic organization. In fact, I intend to take out a membership,” she said.
On Facebook — where local politics lives in 2019 — the moment sparked hundreds of comments about whether Giellis is a better alternative than Hancock for black and Latino communities.
“Even though the NAACP is a shell of its former self, she still has to know what the acronym stands for!” wrote Jason McBride. He’s not a “big” Hancock supporter himself, but he was alarmed by Giellis’ statement. Wasn’t it better, he asked, to keep Hancock as a known quantity?
Others said it was a forgivable stumble, especially given what’s at stake.
“I think it’s an empty conversation,” said Hasira Ashemu, director of a nonprofit education organization, in a phone interview. “If you would have asked 9 out of 10 black people that same question who are less than 45 years old, they would struggle.”
Ashemu said he turned against Hancock because of the mayor’s underwhelming engagement with Black Lives Matter and his support for the urban camping ban, which Giellis has promised to overturn. And he believes that the NAACP itself has fallen short in Denver lately.
Ashemu came around to Giellis, he said, when former candidate Lisa Calderón endorsed her earlier this week. Giellis, Calderón and Penfield Tate have offered a “unity” ticket.
“Plain and simple, I don’t trust Jamie. I don’t trust politicians in general. However, Lisa Calderón is not a politician. She is somebody who worked in the community,” he said.
Because Calderón supports Giellis, he said, he supports the lone remaining challenger to Hancock.
That’s a theme emerging for some black and Latinx voters: Giellis offers a platform for change against an administration that has overseen a wave of development and subsequent gentrification. Fard himself has backed Giellis, saying in a text message that the campaign “has broadened her scope and perspective.”
Dr. Lisa Vallejos, who described Giellis as the “typical white savior” last week, said that Calderón’s endorsement had her considering Giellis. What she wanted, she said in a tweet, was a promise that Giellis would hire inclusivity consultants and find other ways to boost black and indigenous people.
“I have no issue backing you IF you can show me (and the rest of the community) that you’re teachable and willing to listen to/grow from critique,” she wrote.